Elegies, by Michael Symmons Roberts

Image: portrait of John Milton (1608-1674)

From the BBC Media Centre:

“Two of the greatest Elegies in the English language, Milton’s Lycidas and Tennyson’s In Memoriam adapted by poet Michael Symmons Roberts. A two-part drama telling the stories behind Milton’s Lycidas and Tennyson’s In Memoriam.

Part 1. Milton’s Lycidas – starring Holliday Grainger and Nico Mirallegro.

Elegies Episode 1 of 2

Although written two centuries apart, in 1637 and 1833, the making and circumstances of these great elegies are full of interconnections and are centred on the poetic response to grief and loss. Milton’s Lycidas is the first great elegy in English poetry. Both Lycidas and In Memoriam were written in response to the sudden unexpected death of a young male friend, striking the poets in their mid-twenties. when the poets were students at Cambridge. The dead men were prodigiously gifted and also poets, early rivals and first readers to the poets who elegised them.

Milton and Tennyson were thereby thrown into personal grief and poetic challenge, but how to make a poetic elegy that honours and reflects that genuine grief whilst rising to the challenge of the first great poetic subject in these young poets’ lives? Milton and Tennyson responded to these complex and terrible circumstances with radically different elegies that stand among the finest poems in English literature.


Part 2. Tennyson’s In Memoriam – starring Holliday Grainger and James Cooney.

Elegies Episode 2 of 2

…The line from Lycidas to In Memoriam is clear. Tennyson idolised Milton and wanted his elegy to emulate Milton’s expansiveness and profundity. When Tennyson’s friend the poet Edward Fitzgerald heard that he was working on an elegy for Hallam, he warned his friend that Milton had already done it all: ‘Lycidas is the utmost length that an elegy can reach’.”


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